Students to discuss fair trade at weekend global convergence

By Jessi Savino

This weekend hundreds of students, activists, industry partners, nonprofit organizations, fair trade enthusiasts and producer representatives from around the world will meet for the fourth annual United Students for Fair Trade International Convergence.

The convergence, which takes place over four days at Fenway High School, will include educational workshops, keynote speakers and skill-building exercises, all meant to facilitate communication and understanding about the fair trade movement. The convergence will also aim to educate students about ways to make the fair trade movement more mainstream in their communities.

“Fair trade is becoming more significant when students are choosing where to shop,” said Paul Daigle, founder and president of Off Your Back Shirts, which makes sweatshop-free clothing and is one of the conference’s sponsors. “More people are buying based on ethical concern.”

Fair trade, which guarantees that the working conditions of factory employees are fair and safe, is becoming a rising issue among some college students.

“I think that our current system, with its obvious emphasis on capitalistic measures, inherently pushes upstart, smaller companies – particularly from the developing world – into the backdrop,” said Rachel Kling, a junior criminal justice major who supports fair trade. “The basic tenets of fair trade involve drawing the benefits to the artisan, not maximizing profits.”

Jesse Jolly, a member of Northeastern’s Progressive Student Alliance (PSA), said this weekend’s convergence will help promote and spread the fair trade movement.

“It is easy to get discouraged when there are only six or seven people on campus working on the issue of fair trade,” Jolly said. “So when we go to these off-campus meetings it is a breath of fresh air, and allows us to share stories with other groups and trade tips on what works and what doesn’t. Overall, they are good to keep in perspective what we are working for.”

On campus, the PSA has been trying to get the university to switch its coffee providers to those that are fair trade certified, but has had only weak success, she said.

“Chartwells, our food service provider, did agree to do so on a trial basis, for about a week, last year,” Jolly said. “It has not, however, been a consistently available option since then.”

Representatives from fair trade cooperatives throughout Asia, Africa and Central and South America will be at the convergence, which starts Thursday. Students can connect with other people who are passionate about fair trade, Daigle said.

“The fair trade movement is empowered by the passionate activism of students worldwide,” Daigle said. “Their idealism and advocacy challenge their campuses and everyday consumers to realize the ethical repercussions of their purchases.”

Jolly hopes this weekend’s events will awaken students to fair trade.

“This is an important issue; it reaches beyond the scope of our school,” Jolly said. He added the convergence will help gather support for fair trade, which can then be presented to the university to persuade them to “make a firm ethical statement with all of their coffee purchases.”

For more information about fair trade, or to register for the convergence, visit www.usft.org.

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